Author Archives: Elizabeth Toogood

Elizabeth Toogood

About Elizabeth Toogood

Elizabeth is a mixture of mentor, coach and non-executive director. She meets face to face with individuals and gives each of them total focus; there are no matrices or models into which they need to fit. The ethos of Elizabeth Toogood is to offer a high level of support and serious intellectual challenge.

A thought for March

Wind and storms. March coming in like a lion. However, there are also gorgeous snowdrops, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus in the gardens and on the verges. Some trees have already decided to parade their blossom and lots of plants, trees and shrubs are in bud. They are taking huge risks and we all feel better.

March is also the month of International Women’s Day (8 March this year).

This event started back in 1911 when over one million people engaged with it in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the UK suffragettes and suffragists were working to win equality. Now it is a worldwide event and there are many events staged to celebrate it and encourage women to fulfil their potential.

As you read this (I hope you will read this!) I shall be part of a round table – Women in Industry: Building Inclusive Teams for Success

This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter which sets out:

  • A balanced world is a better world.
  • Rise of women is not about the fall of men.
  • Everyone can play a role in forging gender parity.
  • Gender balance is not a women’s issue – it’s an economic issue.
  • Advocacy, inclusive mindsets and tangible action is needed by all.
  • International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance.

In preparation our host sent us a dozen questions to mull over and maybe comment on in the discussion. I thought it might be useful to pick out four of them and share some of my ideas.

What do you think the real barriers to women’s progression in the work place are?
I think that there are not enough role models to help women believe that anything is possible. However, this is complicated by the first generation of women who have been a success – not all good role models. Some have done it by being surrogate men, some by using their feminity and some by doing down other employees. None of these are enviable behaviours.

Some women even keep other women in their place by not giving them opportunities or promotions because they do not want the competition. I once worked for a woman like this; it is ten times worse than working for a misogynist – they are nothing short of bullies. You can convert a misogynist by convincing them with stunning work…”I do not hold with women in transport, Liz, but you can work for me anytime”.

The other problem is that women need people to believe in them. Their support teams are hugely important: partners, children, mums and dads, friends. People who say “you can do this…”; often.

What do you think of some of the potential solutions – so from gender quotas from MPs shortlists to the number of women who should be in the board room?
I am not keen on all women shortlists as I think women who get jobs will then never believe they were good enough to do it on their own merits. 

However, I do believe in choices. Let’s make selection lists for potential MPs or for job vacancies as diverse as possible. The research tells us that the more diverse the board the more likely the business is to be successful. This means women and men, young and old, specialists and generalists, all creeds, all colours, all cultures, “normal” and high functioning autistic people, able bodied and disabled etc.etc. The more diverse the group the more creativity will be generated from their experience. We all know if we only associate with people like ourselves how stultifying it can be. We need challenge.

What are the interventions that really make a difference? On this list could be mentoring schemes, recruitment practices, talent pipelines, leadership courses, lean-in circles.
I am a mentor so of course I believe in all these interventions. Let’s get women into the right places, do all we can to give them training, as wide an experience as possible and the chance to analyse what they do so they can improve constantly. The confidence will bring success, and both will be contagious, not just to women but to men – to anyone who is not full of self-belief.

And finally, if you gave one piece of advice to your younger self what would you say?
Last month I invited you to pass on your favourite piece of business advice? No one did. So here is my advice for this month (and I wonder if I will be sharing it with the panel this morning?). Make a career plan to gain the experience to take you where you want to be; accept there will be jobs along the way that might not be fascinating but will put stuff on to your CV that you need, however, if you find yourself in an organisation that does not share your ethics or value take to the hills and fast!

They say that you only regret the things you never did. I agree. One of my regrets is that in 1986, when I was invited to become an Equal Opportunities Commissioner I turned down the opportunity. I had good reasons but wish I had ignored them and taken on the challenge then. Never mind, I try to do my bit now. Think of me this morning!

So what can you do? Not just today but all year? Please encourage women to believe in themselves. Say to your daughter, sister, mother, niece, friend “You can do this”, keep saying it and affirm their commitment and successs.

What do you think about all this? Please let me know.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of getting advice that will improve your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to, as fast as you want to. Why not chat with me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for February

Snow and ice one moment and the next day there is fog and suddenly daffodils and crocus are poking through. February is a strange month. Lots of people have given up alcohol for January or tried the vegan approach to life and now they are sticking with it or relapsing into their previous lives. Half term is early in Bedford and lots of parents are taking advantage because breaks are not as expensive as normal. So February is a mixture of depression and joy.

On Sunday we had the joy of two gorgeous new babies in church, both very peacefully asleep. The new parents were blissfully happy but not quite so sanguine. They looked and were speaking about sleep deprivation. Between 2 and 4am seemed to be the favourite time for the babies to be wide awake. They were looking for advice from old hands. They were also talking about the challenge of learning all these new parenting skills and the responsibility of nurturing, developing and supporting this tiny new person.

Then later in the week I spent a few hours at the Nat West Accelerator in Milton Keynes. This is a tremendous  resource for developing entrepreneurs, some are starting out with their own businesses and some have reached the point where they want to scale up. They are also learning lots of new skills and feel the responsibility of nurturing, developing and supporting their business babies. They have access to all sorts of people who can help them learn and the fantastic encouragement of people in the same group going through the same process.

Whether it is new parenthood or the business world it can be exciting and scary in equal measure. Having people around you who understand the privilege and the challenges makes a huge difference. Mostly mutual support is quiet and empathetic. Encouragement sees the positive in events and responses. Learning is about watching, practicing and trying again until the behaviours become ingrained as second nature. Remember that strange feeling of sitting behind the wheel of a car for the first time and thinking it would never be possible to co-ordinate two hands and two feet as well as looking forward and back. I remember feeling new respect for people who could drive, navigate and hold a conversation with a passenger at the same time.

And as we gained a skill we learnt to ask different questions and get more detailed information. As we learn we realise how little we know, and we strive to get to a level that passes an exam. Once we are through Grade 1 we move on and on and some people might get through Grade 8!

The great thing is when our friends give us good advice from their experience. It saves us time, it might save us pain and embarrassment and we make quicker progress. So if you were giving business advice what would be your favourite snippets, what helped you most?

These are some of my favourites:

  • Make your customer feel special and they will love you and keep coming back.
  • If you experience great customer service ask yourself why it is so good and copy it.
  • Remember people’s names and use them.
  • Play to your strengths and get other people to play to theirs. You cannot be good at everything.
  • Carry a scribbler with you. It is a notebook you jot everything in that you need to remember especially ideas.
  • 1 + 1 makes 3 if you work with people who stimulate your thinking.
  • People are all different so notice how other people get things done effectively.
  • Never stand still, if you do you’ll go backwards.
  • The worst thing that can happen is probably no response, so risk it.
  • Watch your competitors like a hawk. If they are doing something different to you they are changing expectations. How are you going to beat that?
  • Work is fun. If it isn’t why isn’t it?

So what is your favourite piece of advice? Let me know and I will pass them on next month. It could be just the thing someone out there needs.

And I love this quote.  “If XX says do it like this you know it’s wrong. Do the opposite!”

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of getting advice that will improve your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to, as fast as you want to. Why not chat with me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for January

January. A new year full of excitement and anticipation but first of all everyone is trying to get back into a normal routine after all the excesses of the Christmas holidays. It is hard work and it is cold, and some days are dreary and all of them are short of daylight. So not particularly inspirational.

Woman hiding under duvet

People are full of resolutions: to eat sensibly, to lose weight, to exercise more and and and … Many of these have already hit the buffers. Dry January may sound good in theory but when everything around you is screaming you need comfort is this likely to become reality?

Many of you know that I do not hold with new year resolutions. If you decide to make a change do it today and forget the date! I also think that long term change can be challenging – try it for a day, a week, a month and see how it goes as you embed the new habit. Changing things is hard work and we all need to be totally committed and able to focus.

However, this Thought is not about resolutions I want to suggest that you may not yet have finished with 2018.

We tend to close years very quickly, often very pleased to see the back of them. One of the things I think we can miss is a proper post mortem on the year before we put it to bed. We did lots last year, we changed things, we tried things, we enjoyed things, we made progress. We learnt stuff and maybe we made some mistakes. We did some things really well.

So please take one last look at 2018 and ask yourself these questions and any others that occur to you:

  • What did I do that was new and how did it go?
  • What did I try and enjoy doing?
  • What did I try and will never ever do again?
  • What made me feel good?
  • What made me feel bad?
  • What did I do with others and have fun doing? Have I arranged to do it again?
  • What did I succeed in changing? How do I feel? Will it give me confidence to try and change something else?
  • Where did I make progress – however tiny the steps?
  • Where did I stretch my mind?
  • Did I take any risks? And what was the result?
  • Which skills did I learn?
  • Did I discover a new talent?
  • Where was I successful? Do I know why? Could I do it again?
  • What did I learn about myself?
  • Did I make a new friend? Am I nurturing that person?
  • Did I make any mistakes? What did I learn from them?
  • Was I kind to myself?
  • Was I kind to others?
  • Am I a good example to others?
  • Where did I grow?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The answers are evidence and from all this evidence what are you going to take into 2019?

As I always say, none of it is original but just thinking about it may give you some useful building blocks for 2019. It might help you to file 2018 away as a good year with lots of good memories.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to. Why not chat to me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

Woman hiding under her duvet

A thought for December

December. What more can I say? We are all rushing towards 25 December with excitement and some trepidation.

I do not want to keep you long because there is just too much to do. You might be a Mum with so much to plan or maybe you are off for a Christmas break. I want to give you a gift that might be useful and help you use that precious time well.

Like that time before the annual holiday, this is the time of year for lists or even lists of lists! We are desperate to be organised and use every second. We are running late before we even start! Sometimes those very lists terrorise us.

Let’s introduce some reality that might save your nerves being frayed.

I think there are only three useful lists:

  1. Stuff that must be completed before the Christmas shut down.
  2. The tasks you need to do to ensure a wonderful Christmas for you and yours.
  3. The Back to Work list.

Let me explain.

List 1 – Stuff that must be completed before Christmas

This is shorter than you think.

In general we shove everything on to the list ignoring whether it must be done before we finish work or not. We have the vain hope that we will have time to clear the decks before we adjourn to the kitchen. It will not happen – it never has, and it never will!

Be completely realistic. Accept that there are a million things that will get between you and doing all these good things. You will be infected by the general jollity and it will be impossible to be productive; going to your children’s Christmas shows and watching their performances is the most important thing you can do now. These opportunities will never come again – make the most of them.

So only list the things that really matter e.g. invoicing!

List 3 – the Back to Work list

Yes I know January can be bleak but let’s be honest. Nowadays the UK shuts down longer and longer for the Christmas season (unless you are in retail and flogging yourself to death to make as many sales as you can). The rest of us will probably finish work on Friday 22 December, and you may not return to work until Tuesday 2 January, or even any time up to the following Monday, 8 January.

Let’s stick with being honest. If it is the first week after the new year you will be contending with other people’s absence – those who are not back – and it will make you furious, resentful/frustrated. If you return on 8 January, you will have so much time off that your first week back will be in second gear – trading all those holiday stories with people you talk to. It will be time at the desk rather than quality work.

So I suggest you do it differently.

Make a list of the jobs that you want to do in this twilight time before you go away. Capture them so they will not get lost. Look at them as tasks you can do when things are quiet, time when you can think, and you will not be interrupted.

You will not be in top gear – recognise it. See these jobs as a way back in slowly.

However, the glorious gift of this is that you will be relaxed so you will be more creative, more playful and your results will be more exciting than any devised under stress.

I promise you that this way:

  • You will not reach Christmas stressed.
  • You will accomplish things whilst you are getting back into full swing.
  • You will not beat yourself up for sloth.

So this year why not try something different? Make it a gift to yourself!

What happened to List 2 you ask – the tasks you need to do to ensure a wonderful Christmas for you and yours. Well, I cannot help with that, only you know what you want to achieve. However, I give some useful pieces of advice passed to me from an aunt:

  • It is one day and it does not have to be perfect.
  • The greatest gift for anyone is that you give them time.
  • We love each other so there is bound to be at least one bust up, be glad once its over! We can all relax then.

Does any of this help? None of it is original but just thinking about it might give you a happier time and lots of good memories.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to. Why not chat to me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for November

We are well into Autumn. Glorious bright mornings with a nip in the air and ice on the car. We remember what a blessing central heating is and snuggle into cosy sofas when we have drawn the curtains. Physical days are shorter, and activities are curtailed accordingly. And of course the shops are full of Christmas cheer. A friend told me she has had her first Christmas card – on 3 November!

Most of us are wondering what needs to be achieved before Christmas and To Do lists are being prepared accordingly.

I am in the midst of rebranding my business. I have had the pale blue colour and safe pair of hands strapline for six years and it is tired. This is not the great reveal – that will come in the next few months I hope – this is all about the process.

I am sure you have been through this. I think it is my seventh time either in my own business or other people’s. I was fortunate the first couple of times; in corporate life there was enough budget to employ a brand specialist. On the other hand when one works alone there are not too many people with whom to argue! Even so there is a good deal of thinking to do.

My branding came into being when I first started this business and I wanted to be very clear that I am a business mentor and not a business coach. These are not semantics. A coach often has a process for reviewing all parts of a business and will teach as they work the person through this. A mentor starts with the issue that is on the person’s mind and works from there helping the person develop business, management and personal skills as appropriate to the situation. Coaches tend to be younger and this role is part of their career plan. A mentor is usually older, has done lots of business stuff and wants to help those who follow, succeed first time rather than make the same mistakes. This was why I came up with the term critical friend. Whilst descriptive I have spent lots of time explaining it means high challenge and high support within a safe environment. The time has come to acknowledge this and find a business persona that is immediately recognisable as what I am.

I am traditional, so it starts with my looking again at my core business. What am I doing that I enjoy and am good at? Which of the services I offer are most popular? Am I doing anything I should not be?

What are my values? And have they changed? It was a great time for my friend Jules White to publish her book Live it, Love it, Sell it. She asks great questions about values and made me dig deep. If you are looking for a sales coach in a book then read it; it is a fantastic way to look at sales and beat your fears.

Once I had my core business and my values straight I had to think about my ideal customer. Yes, I know it is flavour of the moment, but it is very important. Who are our clients? When I started this business I was branding to attract the clients I expected to have. This time I have real data to work with. My clients are female, between 35 and 45 in the main, in long term relationships, with children and their income is important to the household. They run their own businesses which started on the kitchen table and are often undercapitalised. I could go on but am sure that you get the gist.

So to the brand.

  • What are the words to describe it? What is it not?
  • How is it positioned in the market? What are its characteristics?
  • Where does it hang out and with whom and what?
  • What colour is it?
  • How old?
  • What is its style?
  • When I first did this back in the 1980s, I remember being shocked when asked to think about which animal our brand was. Now this is common place. So I know which animal my brand is, which car, which actor, which song and where and with whom it hangs out.

I have done my thinking and briefed all the relevant people. Now I am in the business of reviewing other people’s ideas about what I have said. It is a great process refining and refining.

Now I tell you all this not because I am a brand expert, I am most certainly not. However, I am now an expert on my own brand and everything it stands for. The clarity has helped me define my marketing strategy, put myself in the right rooms with the right people (avoiding the rooms that might be nice but not useful) and honed my antennae to detect the right customers for me. I knew most of this stuff but had not revisited it for a while and the world changes all the time. It has been great to re-connect with the work I love and remember why I do it.

None of this is original and we know most of it, but I am saying it is a good process and I should not have left it six years. Stepping back from the day to day and considering how to get my message across; going back to fundamentals has been great. I have had time to think about what I am and what I stand for. I recommend it to everyone.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to. Why not chat to me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for October

Autumn is in full swing and the colours are wonderful. The grape harvest is good, and they say the wine will be beautiful. What more could we want in October?

Have you noticed that everyone is busy? No I don’t mean they are demonstrating lots of activity. I mean when you say to someone “how are you” they say, “Oh I am so busy”. On one hand I know they are busy (by their standards) on the other I sometimes think this is competitive busyness – I am busier than you, so I am more important than you. Is this just me?

The real question is what am I busy doing and are these the right things?

Once a year I keep a detailed diary for a fortnight detailing what I actually did with my time. Its analysis sometimes requires a strong stomach.

  • Two hours on that Saturday afternoon clearing my inbox – was that really necessary? I could have been watching the rugby.
  • An hour’s travel time to meet that client – did the fee level justify that?
  • An hour on a Friday afternoon having my nails done – what did that do for my business? Why was I doing it in work time rather than leisure time?
  • Two hours finding a reference for a client – did she really need to know where I found the research I quoted? And why did I not note it in the first place?
  • Meeting that person for an hour plus travel time – what was it supposed to achieve?
  • Writing three standard emails yet again instead of having them in my processes folder and just blasting them out automatically – why do I do this?

I could go on. Suffice it to say the diary helps me to see the error of my ways and put things right. However I do need to do this once a year to ensure I stay on the straight and narrow.

When a new client comes to me I usually ask what a typical day looks like especially if their life involves regular childcare and all that implies. I had a client recently who looked sheepish when I asked the question. It turned out that she was addicted to Facebook (well we did not know that until we did the analysis). She was spending 2 to 2.5 hours a day catching up with Facebook and I do not mean posting on her business page. Then we multiplied the time by her hourly rate. The daily cost was frightening. Bless her once we found a strategy of how she could get out of this expensive habit and she made it work. The first few days of cold turkey were tough, but she did it and a week on is still clean. She is also getting more “proper” work done – there is a surprise! Very well done I say, it has not been easy, and she has put in the effort. The prize has been worth the price.

The truth is that she was busy. She was doing stuff, just not the right stuff. We all know the theory of prioritising our work but how often do we do it properly and make a To Do list in priority order and then crucially work down it from the top. Some of us don’t prioritise so do not achieve the tasks we should. Some of us cherry pick the things we want to do (or avoid the tasks that we don’t). We forget the basic time management strategy:

Urgent and Important Do it now!

Not Urgent and Important Programme it into quality time when we are functioning at our best and do it.

Urgent and Not Important  Do it quickly and do not worry about it being perfectly executed

Not Urgent and Not Important Bin it!

None of this is original and we know it. We all fill the time available because we are busy. Ask yourself at least once a year what you are busy doing?

  • Are these the right things?
  • Have you got into bad habits?
  • Is there a need for change?
  • Time is the one thing we can never get back , we should use it wisely. Are you?

If not face the issue. There are ways to change those bad habits, ways to break addictions, ways to get back on track. Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of improving your personal skills. Why not chat to me about how.

If this has been interesting, please share it.

Now I am busy, so I am off to get on! Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

A thought for September

September already. Where did that summer go?  It seems to me that autumn is already here. The Met office says it starts on 1 September, but my garden has thought it for a while – leaves have died early, and the ground is covered in autumn debris. There is that lovely nip in the air first thing in the morning and the world feels fresh each day. A charity dared to mention the word Christmas to me and I have just bought my 2019 diary. 2018 is rushing headlong to its end!

This is the week when most of us change our routines. Have you a child going to a new school or into a new class, starting to work for exams or even off to university or college? If you have you may be acutely conscious of how things are changing. It is so much more than new shoes and new timetables. We watch our children change their objectives and their focus (whether they want to or not). Ambitions may become clearer and timescales certainly do. We try to support all this and add in our learnings and wisdom.

We may also be around those starting their first major job. Do you remember that day? I do – scary or what? Looking back, it was all about learning a new set of rules. A stranger in a new country we needed to find a map and ask the locals for help.

It seems to me that September has been the start point for many changes throughout our lives. The world around us has changed our focus whether we want it to or not. However, as we grow we decide when to make changes and move on. We may be prompted by the seasons but there are different rhythms in our working year. We know that September feeling (a beginning). Then there is the calendar year end looming (get it done before the UK shuts for a fortnight), then the tax year (get those expenses in) and sometimes we have a different financial year that drives our business decisions. All of these dates provide our business milestones.

How do you view yours? Are you stimulated by the up coming quarter? Seeing it as an opportunity, inspired to make it work for you, planning what you are going to do? I hope so. It seems to me that a 12-week quarter is a manageable chunk of time. One in which tasks can be achieved, not too daunting, which is why so many successful businesses run on a quarterly review process; look back, review, look forward, plan for what you want to achieve.

On the other hand are you still in second gear? Reluctantly trying to pull yourself together? A client said to me this morning “I need a kick up the backside, I am still on summer time, passing the days rather than using the days”. It happens to us all but if you have a business or work for someone else you are there to ensure the outcomes are right.

We watch our children as they make those fresh starts. We help them make the transitions. We support them as they approach the difficult times or when the road gets rough. Their development is a joint enterprise.

When we are an employee of a professional organisation we should get the same feeling . If you cannot feel it then maybe you are in the wrong place.

However, if you work for yourself where do you get this level of challenge and support? Who helps you to plan the next quarter? Who reviews it with you? Who helps you learn the lessons and improve? Who shares your successes and helps you stand up when you have fallen over?

I would suggest it could be your mentor (but then I am one); it could be someone else in your support group. The important thing is that you are accountable to someone.

So what am I suggesting as you face this new term and strap on your new school shoes? Thinking about these things could be helpful:

  • This is a fresh start so look forward and not back – the past is gone and the future beckons
  • This is all about you doing the best you can and is not competitive with anyone else
  • Lots can be achieved in the 15 weeks until the year end
  • Have you got the map that shows you where you are going?
  • Looking at that what are the priorities that you want to focus on?
  • How are you going to monitor what you do?
  • What advice and support do you need? And where will you find it?

None of this is original. We often think about others first and put ourselves last. Try thinking about how you would advise your younger self and how you would support that advice.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

A thought for August

August and it has been hot, hot, hot. We are all moving slowly and looking for things not to do. Plants and grass in our gardens are dying. Children are kicking through leaves as they eat ice creams – how very strange it is!

Life is being pared back to the bare minimum.

At the same time the media has been telling us that we look at our phones every twelve minutes. However much we need them that is a frightening statistic. Five times an hour we stop whatever we might be doing and catch up with something else. I wonder what the something else might be in your life? What can you not live without?

Is it the obvious things like texts and emails? In a way they justify themselves as they might be work. What else do you look at? Social media in all its glory? Do you stop working and doing the things that pay your bills in order to look at pictures of other people’s food and dip into their lives? Do you feel better for that? How many of you remember the round robin letters that accompanied Christmas cards? They were full of posh holidays, big family events and clever children who passed their GCSEs when they were 10! They were designed to arouse jealousy and made the reader feel inadequate. Social media can be just the same but without the subtlety.

Then there is the whole cult of taking photographs. Instead of enjoying the experience we have to photograph the experience. I was in an art exhibition recently and people were taking pictures of the pictures! Why?

Now do not get me wrong I love technology that helps me do more, enjoy more or be more effective. I just hate the stuff that makes me feel I am inadequate or missing out on life. Just because I can find out the time in Atlanta does not mean I need to! Knowing the level of humidity does not make me feel cooler. Avoiding a traffic jam is wonderful but only because I get home to those I love sooner.

I love my phone in an emergency, or when I am late or when I am at a festival and can keep up with what is going on in other tents or venues. I love being able to send texts when I am looking for a friend at those big events or I need to know the weather or check out how the trains are running. I love being able to manage my bank account when I might have forgotten to pay off my credit card. It is great to be able to conjure up the book I am reading on my Kindle when I get stuck somewhere. I could go on and on about how fantastic this computer in my hand is…in its place.

However I also find it frightening.

Let’s start with the way people use them on the move. How often have you been barged by someone not paying attention to who else is walking on the pavement? I am a wheelchair user and my machine is electric and therefore silent. I am also not at eye level. I have to be extra alert because the people around me are not and yes, I do get abused for getting into their way. I have to remember they get angry because they are startled and scared.

Are phones the accessory that stops us wondering what to do with our hands? It used to be caressing a drink or smoking a cigarette, now it is holding a phone. In excess they will all kill us.

Phones are definitely for making calls and I am glad that the art of conversation is not dead for everyone (but for a few it is). However, do I want to share some of the intimate details that they reveal? Those ear pieces convince them that they are in a private space. And of course it does not occur to them that I might be able to identify some of the people they are speaking of. In London that would be a long shot. In Bedford it happens.

So why in my business thinking space am I bewailing the mobile phone?

The first set of reasons are about what they do for self-esteem. Do I need to check my phone to be sure I exist? To feel important because someone is trying to contact me? To matter to someone? To be sure I am important? Am I more comfortable with the machine than engaging with the real world? Am I too shy to engage with the people around me? Is it dangerous to be seen doing nothing? Is the phone the modern-day version of a shield? All of these things concern me if they might be true for some people.

Then as a business mentor I am perturbed by the implication that if we carry a phone that is switched on we are available. When I first started work I remember being with a wise old manager discussing something or other and the phone rang. I waited for him to answer it and learnt an important lesson when he said the person in front of you is always more important than the person who randomly decided to ring you at the same moment. How true that is.

We need chunks of time to engage in some of our tasks. Lessons in schools are not 30 to 40 minutes by accident. This length of time gives us an opportunity to engage with a task and then do something productive before your attention starts to tail off. Try using your phone’s alarm to alert you to when the work period ends.

Phones can be a fantastic displacement activity. Checking them can take 10 minutes. If you have not enough to do then checking your phone can while away the time. If you want to be productive think of your phone as an addiction you need to control. Think of it as a piece of machinery to help you simplify your life or make it more effective rather than a habit to be fed come what may.

None of this is original. Use your phone as a friend rather than a demanding boss – control it rather than letting it control you. Live your own life.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

 

A thought for July

July – the wonderful month of Henley and Wimbledon. Schools are in the exciting time of celebration of achievements, sports days, school plays and concerts; pupils preparing to move on and we are all looking forward to holidays. This year we have a heatwave which most people seem to like (I am not good in heat, so I am the odd one out). Depending on when you are reading this you might be getting all patriotic about the World Cup. As I write we are enjoying the victory over Colombia, but the pressure is already being applied for the Sweden game. I could spend the next few minutes writing about focus, leadership, teamwork, the psychology of achievement or realistic goals but I am not going to!! The media is having a field day doing just this. Instead I want to think about how we choose the work we do.

This week we welcomed a new curate to our church community and on Radio 4 there was the start of a series called The Wrong Job in which Emma Kennedy is investigating why as many as 75% of us are doing jobs with which we are not happy. Alongside that, with the other three judges, I am starting the judgment process for The Inspire Initiative. All this has made me think about how we choose what to do with our lives.

Choosing to be a priest is an unusual process which I have observed on many occasions but never experienced. Most denominations wait for people to come forward, thinking they have a vocation to priesthood and then there is a long period of discernment – trying to perceive what God is saying about the right way forward. The emphasis is on the person considering thoughtfully what their future holds often when they have already committed themselves to a career path. At various stages along the way they are interviewed by different people from different backgrounds, all testing these feelings of vocation.  Eventually they might be selected for training and throughout that period there is more soul searching and the person can pull out. One of my teachers was a lovely man who taught me Religious Knowledge and the basics of Greek; he had pulled out of ordination within weeks of it happening. When I knew him he was recovering, refocusing his life and testing what he should be doing whilst teaching sixth form women.

This is a very different process to being asked at school what you want to do and then being forced into making decisions about appropriate exam courses. The time for convenient academic decisions is often not the moment when we are ready to decide which hole is the right shape for the peg we are! I admired hugely the school friend who having chosen her A levels did a year and then chucked it all in to start again. Suddenly at age 17 she realised she did not want to be a lawyer; she did want to be a vet. Forty years later she has had a wonderfully happy career as a small animal vet. It took huge courage for her to decide her decisions were wrong and then have the strength of conviction to stop the academic wheels rolling and the parental aspirations hardening. All she had to go on was her persistent gut feeling that what she was doing was wrong and what she wanted was right.

She was incredibly fortunate that she could address being on the wrong road because she knew which path she did want to take.

All this can be made even more difficult because someone’s skills do not necessarily give them satisfaction when they use them. My husband was a born salesman. He could talk to anyone, question what their needs were, listen carefully to the answers and then sell them the right product. There was only one problem, it was not his favourite thing; he wanted to be a journalist. Now as you read this you know that talking to people and asking questions would have made him equally good at both. However, he came from a background and a school that could visualise him being a salesman but would not have known where to start in helping him to be a journalist. That was a time when once you started you were on the road and the future was fairly well cast in stone.

Our lovely new curate is in his forties and has had a very successful career in education. He has been brave and taken his time to make this change of direction. He has observed the role of parish priest and got a real sense of what the job is all about. The process the church offers for selection is a pretty good one and does not rush people.

However, for the rest of us there may not be this luxury. How do we discern what our skills are and how we might use them?

Identifying talent is tricky. Often we know far too little to know whether we have any skill. I may love to sing but my untutored voice may not have the natural tone to be worth listening to or hold a tune! The people who watch us and might make a judgement have a natural bias. They may be sure we will be a lawyer because we are a family of lawyers. My builder always wanted to be a builder but comes from a family of farmers and that took some managing. People may see in us either what they expect to see or only apply what they see to a very narrow range of possibilities.

In looking at the entries to The Inspire Initiative I see women who have been in this situation, channelled into certain careers but also there have been women whom someone saw something different in and encouraged that seed to grow.  We all deserved good parents and first-class teachers and those that had them are hugely fortunate and may have been steered in the right direction but what if we did not?

My thought this month is all about helping others have the courage to change direction if they need to. If 75 per cent of people are unhappy at work no wonder our productivity is low as a country. As artificial  intelligence grows and inevitably reduces the number of full time jobs let’s help people find the right role for them. If we cannot see a round hole for this round peg then let’s look further. Let’s look widely at possibilities and push the boundaries. Let’s accept that a job choice may be right for now but at some stage we may want to go back and start again on another road.

Most of all let’s be honest with our children about what jobs involve so that they can start to narrow down what appeals and what does not.

If we are responsible for other people’s development then let’s take that very seriously and give them opportunities to explore what might be possible for them. And do not be confined by our own view of the world; some boxes do not have firm sides!! Helping people find the right place for them is one of the joys of what I do – how fortunate am I? And of course helping people find the right role is only part of it; we need then to find a place where the culture is the right one for the person. This can be a complex process but will allow us to be happy. To leap out of bed in the morning excited by the prospect of work.

None of this is original. But think about where you will work best and happily. If you need some help to do the thinking let me know. Help others to be brave and if they are in the wrong place support them in making a new decision and starting again. And think of our new curate as he does just that.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

A thought for June

June already. Where is the year going? Lots of young people taking exams, poor things. Lots of hay fever about and at the other extreme; thunder storms and horrible humidity. Some people made the half term holiday into a proper holiday and everyone else is looking forward to their annual pilgrimage to the sun.

That is the upside. A couple of days ago I was shelling out huge sums of money for some root canal work. It got me thinking about how we purchase. There are 3 types:

  1. The basic stuff we have to have on a day to day basis like food and underwear. It is not optional, and it is not much fun to buy.
  2. The exciting stuff like clothes, shoes, a new guitar or a gig ticket. These purchases give us a boost and we love them.
  3. Then there are grudge purchases like my dental work. We do not want it. We did not budget for it and we do not feel the benefit. These simply take us back to the status quo.

If you sell the basic stuff then it has to be a stunning transaction for people to keep coming back otherwise they might just go on price. Stunning customer service is the way to get loyalty.

Exciting stuff can sell itself if we make the product or service enticing. Building the dream of ownership is how we sell it.

When it comes to a grudge purchase we want it done properly and as economically as possible. I deliberately did not say cheaply because we want it done once and we want it done properly.

It got me thinking about training, development and experience. We do our initial training and professional qualifications where they are appropriate and then we spend time on continuous professional development. We learn new skills either because we want to become more specialist or because the world we are in is changing and we want to keep up. We seek out experience to complement the training and we become increasingly worth our hire. My dentist is particularly skilled in root canals and his equipment is state of the art and that meant my time in the dentist’s chair was comfortable and as short as possible. He did a great job and although I am poorer I am now pain free and I still have the tooth.

I paid for the training, development and the experience and it has to be remembered: his years of preparation meant I was only in the chair for two hours and the pain was gone. However, there is something else. Anyone can make a job look difficult, it takes talent, real skill and lots of experience to make a job look easy. The ease gives the customer confidence both in the immediate job and its longevity. However, there is a danger because someone makes something look easy we may take the work for granted and forget that it is excellent workmanship. His trick was to take an X-ray before hand and talk about what he could see for five minutes before the work started. He made it clear what he would do and the chances of success. After the work was complete there was another X-ray and he explained what he had done.

My dental work is an obvious success (no pain and no hole) but it has made me think about my day job. Mentoring is all about drawing out the issues from the client and then in some suitable way asking them what the feasible solutions might be. I say “drawing out” because how I do this varies from personality to personality and can take lots of time and skill. I need to read the person and decide on the correct route to take; crafting a plan is the easy bit. For some people they realise that they would not have moved from the starting dilemma on their own and certainly would not have committed to a solution without intervention. Others do not always appreciate that I need forty years of experience and honed skills to get them to that point. Using intuition, reading body language, listening to what is said, hearing what is unsaid and then putting the findings to the person in an acceptable way, this is what I do. Helping them examine these findings and then using them as a starting point for developing some new thinking, this is what I do. Sometimes there is confusion that lifts, sometimes clarity emerges and sometimes the penny drops with a resounding clang. This is the equivalent to the toothache going away. Mostly people know it would not have happened if they were left to their own devices. However, there are days when I need to remember my input. After my visit to the dentist I am thinking what my equivalent of the pre and post X-rays might be. However, sometimes a wonderful, unsolicited testimonial arrives, like this one from Anna Botsford:

If you’re looking for a business mentor………look no further! I can highly recommend Liz, she has given me a safe, non-judgmental space to air my business and personal concerns, issues and goals. She has helped and continues to help me understand more about the way I work and how I can change it to be more productive and effective………. thank you, Liz.

It was good to be reminded that money spent with a mentor offers life time value. And it made me grateful that I had thanked the dentist for his work.

None of this is original. But think about how you demonstrate your talent, skills and experience and remember good work is always good value.

If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.

In the meantime I am also taken up with the Inspire Initiative. It is out on the street now; please take a look at www.theinspireinitiative.co.uk

If you are a woman associated with Bedfordshire in some way and not in full time education you are eligible. There are two prizes of one to one mentoring. What is stopping you from applying?